Monday October 21st 2019

Honours even as Herts sides clash again

A Herts derby is not like a normal baseball game.

The national anthem was played as the Herts Eagles and Herts Raptors took their places along the baselines for a pre-game formality at Basing Hill Ballpark. The Herts Londoners got an opening ceremony earlier in the season, why shouldn’t the Eagles get one, too, at its tail end?

The usual Basing Hill playlist of Eighties rock classics was augmented by some new tunes. Lil Nas X made an appearance (on the playlist, not on the field). This would be a special day.

When these two teams met at Grovehill, the Eagles swept the double-header. Could they repeat for a season sweep?

Game 1 got under way with Yasu Ichige on the mound for the Eagles. It didn’t start as smoothly as he might have liked, with the Raptors’ leadoff man and pitcher Matt Jackson getting aboard with a single, and Oli Durer then hit by a pitch.

Laurence Currington drove in Jackson, while Callum Barwick — who had reached on a fielder’s choice – was brought home by GB youth player, Harry Quixley.

But the home side dug in defensively, with a catch by shortstop Rob Gibson and a groundout limiting the damage to two runs. When Ichige faced the lineup again in the second inning, he stepped up a gear and struck out the side. He ended with 7 K’s.

In between, the Eagles’ bats had given them the lead. Gibson took Jackson deep for his second home run of the year. This was just the first instalment in a dominant day at the plate for the rookie shortstop – only the time limit on Game 1 kept him from a chance at the cycle.

His team-mates helped build a big lead in the bottom of the second, bringing home the maximum 5 runs. Catcher Rob Jones drove in a pair, while there were hits for Andy Stratford and Louis Verman.

Laurence Currington at bat

The visitors did not surrender easily, of course. Dan Shaw hit a double, and the team totalled 8 hits, only one behind their hosts.

But the Eagles were mostly able to keep them from scoring. Alex Trautman applied a neat tag to get out a base-runner at third, while Zack Longboy made an improbable leaping catch to end the third inning and save a run.

It ended 10-5 to the home side. Yasu Ichige took the complete game win, his second victory of the year.

The second half of this double header – and the final quarter of the season’s derby drama – would see a measure of revenge for the Raptors.

They came out of the blocks fast, with Harry Quixley and Paul Barton among those scoring in the first inning. Matt Jackson — who didn’t make an out all day long – had started it all off.

On the mound for the Raptors, Barton was calmly dealing. After inducing two pop-ups, he got the key strikeout of Zack Longboy to end the first inning. Only one batter reached in the second.

Paul Barton pitching

A double from Laurence Currington helped to add on in the third and the Raptors led 6-0 in the middle of the third.

The pattern of this game saw the Eagles being effective on offense only in bursts. The inning was either scoreless, or was a maximum 5-run affair. So, in the bottom of the third, ground rule doubles from Rob Gibson, Adam Porte and Darren Priest were among the hits. The Eagles were back in it.

The Raptors were more consistent, though, scoring in every inning. Catcher Kai Rajah was the last man to cross the plate, giving them a 14-10 lead and the chance to close it out in the final, unlimited inning.

The Eagles hopes of a dramatic rally were high, especially when Kumail Jaffer got the last of his four hits on the day to lead it off. But Barton and his defense did what they needed to do.

Two force-outs at second base and a liner to Callum Barwick at third ended the contest. 14-10 to the Raptors, their third win of the season.

The day had delivered everything it promised – as did the season’s four derby match-ups. Both sides have one more fixture remaining, and will look forward to building on their foundations next year.

A round of applause for everyone